Saturday, May 23, 2009

An Emerging Presidential Pattern

I was always of the mind that President George W. Bush’s greatest weakness as a politician was at the same time his greatest asset. President Bush had such poor communication skills that while he often had trouble articulating his ideas and actions to the American people, his ability to engage in rhetorical trickery was also severely limited. President Obama's communication skills, on the other hand, are easily his most impressive attribute. In the past few months, it has become clear that Obama has no reservations about using these skills to manipulate public opinion. For instance, alarm bells should have gone off in everyone’s head when they heard the president repeatedly claim that his administration would “create or save” 4 million jobs. To the untrained ear this sounds wonderful, but any remotely astute observer should have immediately questioned how the number of jobs that were “saved” as a result of Obama’s policies could even be determined. If only 4 million Americans are employed at the end of Obama’s first term will Obama take credit for “saving” those jobs?

During a campaign cycle, subtly deceptive reasoning such as this is to be expected and is widely accepted as a fact of political life. However, once a president assumes office it is generally expected that they deal with problems without the fog of rhetoric clouding what it is they’re actually attempting to do. This fog was on full display in the President’s National Archives speech, which he set up to go head-to-head with a national security speech being made by former Vice President Dick Cheney.

In the speech, Obama cleverly disregarded the claims being made by Cheney telling his audience that in having the current debate

"….we have a return of the politicization of these issues."

No one wants that right? Except Barack Obama apparently.

It was Obama’s politicization of these important issues that got him into the debate with Cheney in the first place. Remember when the President signed an executive order closing Gitmo on his third day in office? This wasn’t policy. It couldn’t possibly have been since Obama had no workable plan to close the prison to begin with. It was politics. He got the votes he needed when he said he was going to close the prison during the campaign. He got the applause he wanted when he signed the order, but, as we now see, he put a large cart before a tiny, miniature horse .

Many on the left cheered when Obama released memos highlighting harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorist detainees. But what did this accomplish? Transparency? Such a claim might believable if made in concert with the release of the memos concerning how well the interrogation techniques worked. However, that would negate the political gain that Obama was trying to make by releasing the memos in the first place. When Cheney called him on the matter of the unreleased memos the president developed new reasoning for his decision to ban the techniques.

“Not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees … but because we could have gotten this information in other ways.”

So now the Harvard-educated lawyer is trying to argue a negative, essentially saying that the techniques may have worked in acquiring information that saved American lives but Cheney can’t prove that we wouldn’t have received the same valuable information had we
not used these harsh techniques. This argument is absurd.

I can’t prove that there’s
not an alternative universe where it rains gumdrops and in which giraffes sing Neil Diamond songs, , however if I were to claim that there was such a fantastic place I'd better have some evidence to back it up or else people will conclude that I'm an escaped mental patient.

Even without the absurd argument of pertinent information possibly having presented itself had we
not used the techniques, Obama's position relies on the false premise that other kinder and gentler techniques were not attempted prior to methods such as waterboarding. This is simply untrue.

But there’s more.

In his speech, Obama reiterated the oft-repeated line among Democrats that Guantanamo,

“...created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained”.

I’ve heard this claim made hundreds of times by Democrats without ever seeing a shred of evidence to back it up. If he was questioned on the claim's validity, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Obama tell us that we couldn’t prove that Guantanamo did
not “create more terrorists around the world.”

See what I’m getting at here?

For Obama this type of sophistry is par for the course. He used it when selling his stimulus package framing the issue as a choice between a trillion dollars in government spending and “doing nothing”. Yet no one was, in fact, advocating, “doing nothing”.

He used it when he overturned the Bush stem cell policy when he labeled those opposed to his decision as

".. those who say, we cannot invest in science."

Who was saying that? I heard people questioning the morality of his decision, but not a single voice questioning the morality of investing in science.

I could go on and on.

I understand that Barack Obama’s rhetorical abilities, his charm and his personality created a whole new generation of young people who are interested in politics, but that does not mean that these new activists are politically savvy.

The Clinton years were a terrific example of how a charming politician can obscure the truth for political gain and never be called on it until the lies become far too egregious to ignore.

During the peace and prosperity of the Clinton era, the president's deceptions were relatively harmless, harming no one other than Clinton himself. But during a time of war and economic upheaval, the stakes are far higher, and the dangers of political grandstanding on matters of national importance should be evident to all.

Obviously, Obama wants to be the anti-Bush and in terms of his communication skills he will undoubtedly succeed in that mission time and time again. I’m sure many women will be happy to warn you of the romantic dangers inherent in falling for a smooth-talking man. However, the dangers of a smooth-talking politician put the nation at risk of far more than an embarrassing one night stand. We must watch closely. All citizens have a responsibility to carefully dissect what Mr. Obama says. I’m fairly confident that with his unparalleled gifts for communication and rhetoric, this president is fully capable of convincing an entire nation to walk off of a cliff. I can’t prove that he’s capable of this. But then you can’t prove that he’s
not capable of it.

-Dan Joseph

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